There is a phenomena that is occurring in the Toronto sportscape recently that should be brought to light. It is of strange curiosity because it is happening across multiple local teams. In the past ten to twenty years, for the most part, Toronto had teams that were talented but didn’t play with grit or they were gritty but didn’t have much talent. Soft teams that didn’t perform well when it mattered most. This meant they were able to get by some nights, but whenever they faced adversity they would fail way more often than not. We all remember the anguish of Toronto FC failing to make the playoffs year in year out; or the painful ease with which the Washington Wizards swept the Raptors in the playoffs; or worse still, the utter devastation of a legion of fans when the Toronto Maple Leafs collapsed at the end of game seven versus the Boston Bruins.
But that’s not been the case recently, quite the opposite actually. Whether you look at the Maple Leafs, the Raptors or even Toronto FC, they haven’t been perfect, far from it, but when things have gotten bad, they have found a way to battle and bounce back. Call it what you like, maturity, strength of character or as Vince McMahon would often say, testicular fortitude. It’s a trait that combined with a strong work ethic and talent creates championship teams.
The Toronto Maple Leafs for example, hit a huge snag in the road recently when they got wiped out by the Florida Panthers 7-2. It was an important game and considering the youth on this team, could have been the beginning of the end of their playoff hopes. Instead, they regrouped and two days later blanked the Tampa Bay Lightning (who were a point ahead at the time) 5-0.
They followed that by taking a point from the Chicago Black Hawks and then a crucial 4-2 victory of the Boston Bruins. Impressive. This won’t guarantee them a playoff spot by any stretch of the imagination as they have plenty of work still to do. But at a crucial time in the season, when everyone was worried that the rookies and therefore the team would start to fail, they have found ways to win.
The same can be said about Toronto FC. They started this season on the road for 3 straight games and although they hadn’t lost in those games, ties with Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia Union seemed disappointing as they could have easily gotten wins in both. Sebastian Giovinco missed a penalty shot in the first game and after taking a 2-1 lead in the 71 minute against the Union, they gave up an equalizer just 2 minutes later. As they entered Vancouver in week 3, the same fear of mediocrity could have set in, especially since the Atomic Ant was not able to play due to an injury.
But they battled hard and took advantage of the silly red card by Brek Shea. Two late goals including the first by the newly-signed Victor Vazquez have allowed the team to come back home with 5 points from 3 away games. Impressive. Lost in all of this is the fact that they have two clean sheets in those 3 games and although none of this guarantees them a trip back to the final, it is a team that has proven they will battle when things get down.
The Raptors for the past couple of months were also languishing in mediocrity. Their record wasn’t horrible, it was just ordinary. Then came the game against the Thunder where Russell Westbrook tore us apart again and again and again. The Raptors were completely lifeless and had no fight in them whatsoever. To be fair, they are missing their spark plug Kyle Lowry who won’t be returning until the season ends… hopefully; but that in itself isn’t an excuse as this team is too good to play that poorly.
They had a players only meeting and although they came out quiet in that first game against Detroit, that 4th quarter was pure dominance to seal the victory. Two days later they followed that with a 116-91 spanking of the Indiana Pacers. Unfortunately, next up were the Chicago Bulls who have beaten the Raptors in 11 straight games. After losing by as many as 16 points in the 3rd quarter, it was easy to believe that the 12th straight loss was at hand. But they did not fold and behind DeMar DeRozan’s 42 points and PJ Tucker’s defence, they fought back to send it into overtime. With 83 seconds left in that extra period, the Raptors took their first lead. They went on to finally beat the Chicago Bulls. The losing streak is over. The jinx is over. Raptors still have plenty to improve upon to get back to the Eastern Conference Final, but the last three games are a real good start. As the old saying goes, adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.
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